The historical presence of Basque immigrants and their descendants in several Latin American countries from the age of colonialism to the present has led to the creation of a web of Basque diasporic communities whose members combine their political identity as citizens of their countries of residence and, in most cases, also of birth, with a cultural, ethnic identity as Basque Argentinians, Basque Uruguayans, Basque Mexicans and Basque Cubans, among others. For centuries the organization of these communities crystalized in the formation of a network of voluntary associations in which the preservation of Basque identity was usually linked to more practical aims such as mutual aid, leisure, and education. Recent advances in the treatment of information, especially the benefits of digitization and the increasing use of the Internet as a tool for communication in all the spheres of human activity, have led to the appearance of initiatives to make this information available both to know and to research the past and present of these Basque diasporic communities, in the Americas and worldwide. These initiatives have been favored by the political evolution in the Basque homeland, with the retrieval of home rule and the creation of its own institutions of regional government, especially in the Spanish side of the Basque Country. Because of this, different websites are now available that provide researchers and general public with a gateway into deeper knowledge of how the Basque diaspora has evolved and what it is today. First of all are the primary sources for reconstructing the history of the Basque diaspora in Latin America. The efforts have been focused on trying both to preserve the documentary heritage of collective endeavors of previous generations of Basques in the region, and to make this heritage as open as possible. This has led to the creation of several digital archives that hold and make available the papers of Basque clubs and associations (in the colonial age, as well as in the period after Latin American independence), the periodicals created by and for the communities of Basque immigrants, the views of others about these communities, and some personal archives to any interested person. Among these initiatives is the attempt to recover the memory of one of the latest forced migratory movements to hit the Basque Country: political exile after the Spanish Civil War. The second type of resource is derived from the later attempts of some Basque diasporic communities to construct their own historical memory, using oral history as their principal tool. Most of the archives of oral sources created through these initiatives are available either on the Internet or in other publicly accessible ways. Third, there are also websites whose aim is to provide the reader with first-hand, easily comprehensible articles on topics related to the Basque diaspora. Some of them deserve special comment because of the variety and richness of their contents. Finally, the lack of specific online, digitalized libraries on the Basque diaspora is somehow compensated for by the emergence of new types of cultural constructs relating to the diaspora in audiovisual form that are also a good source for approaching the topic.
Basques formed a minority ethnic group whose diaspora had a significant impact on the history of colonial Latin America. Basques from the four Spanish or peninsular Basque territories—the Lordship of Vizcaya, the provinces of Álava and Guipúzcoa, and the Kingdom of Navarra—migrated to the New World in significant numbers; the French Basques were also prominent in the Atlantic, particularly in the Newfoundland fisheries. The population density of the Basque Atlantic valleys, which was the highest of any region in Spain, was an important factor that encouraged emigration. And, in response to demographic pressure, in the second half of the 15th century most villages and towns adopted an impartible inheritance system that compelled non-inheriting offspring to seek their fortunes outside the country. Castile was the immediate choice for the Basque émigré, but after 1492 America gradually became an attractive destination. Outside their home country, their unique language and sense of collective nobility (hidalguía universal) were to become two outstanding features of Basque cultural identity. The Basques’ share of total Spanish migration to the New World increased significantly in the second half of the 17th century. By the 18th century they were one of the largest and most influential peninsular regional groups in America. The typical Basque émigré was a young, single man aged between fifteen and thirty. In the New World they left their mark in economic activities that their countrymen had developed in their homeland for centuries: trade, navigation, shipbuilding, and mining. Furthermore, Basques’ collective nobility and limpieza de sangre (blood purity) facilitated their access to important official positions.
On March 12, 1956, Basque National and Columbia University lecturer Jesús María de Galíndez Suarez disappeared from New York City never to be seen again. While no conclusive evidence was ever uncovered, it has been widely accepted that he was taken by functionaries of the regime of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, flown to the island, tortured, and killed. Galíndez, who had worked for the Trujillo regime after fleeing Spain in 1939 and subsequently immigrated to the United States in 1946, had just completed a dissertation on the Trujillato at Columbia. The regime did not look kindly on his chosen perspective and set in motion a plan to have him disappeared. Following his abduction, many U.S. solidarity activists joined forces with Dominican exile groups to push for greater attention to the atrocities of the Trujillo regime as well as for a closer investigation into Galíndez’s disappearance. While Trujillo had similarly disappeared a number of individuals in the United States and other Latin American countries, the Galíndez case is unique for several reasons. First, Galíndez’s life offers a prime example of a transnational identity, of someone who juggled multiple identities and causes, crossed physical and ideological borders, and operated daily with conflicting alliances and allegiances. Second, the murder of the Basque national mobilized a significant collective of solidarity activists in the United States, garnered considerable national press, and built a foundation for future activism. Moreover, as Galíndez had been working as a U.S. intelligence operative since before his arrival in the United States, his story complicates the traditional nexus of solidarity work. Finally, the case offers a unique window onto the geopolitics of the early Cold War (prior to the Cuban Revolution) and the intricacies of the second half of the Trujillo regime.